If you stay single long enough most of your married friends will stop trying to match-make you and take up something easier, like string theory. For a dedicated few, though, finding you a soul mate remains an ongoing challenge, like getting council approval for their over-ambitious reno or persuading their feckless offspring to move out. But while most of these couples operate as tag-team cupids, their respective criteria for partner suitability are often very different. It’s important to remember, for instance, that the husband’s interest is entirely vicarious, and that he’ll only ever nominate a woman he’s fantasised about sleeping with himself, and may not even have noticed, prior to introducing you, that she doesn’t speak English. And while it’s to the credit of the wives that they will tend to look for other than physical qualities and attributes, it has to be said that some of them are motivated less by the desire to make you happier than by the desire to make their own lives tidier; your unaccompanied presence at social gatherings irking them in much the same way as they are irked by the discovery of an un-paired sock in the laundry or the sight of a half-mown lawn.
Even when husband and wife seem to present a united front on a candidate, one of them usually has reservations. Reluctant to interrupt his wife’s gushing testimonial, however, the husband may prefer to mime his ambivalence from somewhere just outside her field of vision. Tempering her assessment of the woman’s towering intellect by rotating an index finger beside his ear, for example. Or qualifying her admiration for the woman’s fuller figure by embracing an invisible beer keg. Or, as the wife concludes her lavish encomium by telling you what a difference this particular woman could make to your life, running an imaginary breadknife across his throat.
And if you act on the recommendation of one without consulting the other, you do so at your peril. Not long ago a friend texted me from a party to tell me that he’d just met my future wife and to ask if it would be okay to give her my number. To help me make my mind up he then texted a photograph of a strikingly attractive, stylishly- dressed woman who looked about twenty years my junior. What I should have done at this point is ask my friend for his wife’s opinion. Instead, I swapped a few texts with this eastern suburbs siren and met her for coffee, during which I discovered that as well as being even more beautiful in three dimensions she was also very funny. Yet she’d never been married, was not currently in a relationship, and – be still my beating heart – had ‘always preferred the company of older men’! Trying not to pant audibly, I suggested dinner the following week at an expensive French restaurant. She turned up on time looking like Catherine Deneuve and everything proceeded to go so swimmingly well that by the time the waiter brought us the dessert menu I’d begun to wonder if my friend’s connubial prediction might not have been so silly. But then, in the time it took us to eat our crème brûlée it all turned to custard. First, she confessed to being an occasional smoker – not something an oesophageal cancer survivor really wants to hear from a prospective spouse. Then she warned me that her dog (‘he’s a dingo, basically’) had savagely bitten her previous three boyfriends and put one of them in hospital. But she looked so beautiful as she said this, and the evening had been such fun up to this point, that I might have been prepared to put up with the ashtray breath and the skin grafts if she hadn’t then happened to mention, as we waited for the bill, her fervent belief in reincarnation and her unshakeable conviction that she’d once been Mary Queen of Scots. And notwithstanding the restaurant’s low light and my six glasses of wine it suddenly became crystal clear to me how this radiant, engaging, elegant woman had managed to remain single for so long. To quote the great Jerry Seinfeld, ‘Sometimes the road less travelled is less travelled for a very good reason’. Or to quote the friend who’d brokered this fling, and who I telephoned the following morning: ‘Ah yes, sorry about that, mate. Lovely woman, but the wife tells me she’s mad as a cut snake’.
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